Truthdig's Robert Scheer spoke with Alissa Quart about the "hyper-educated poor" phenomenon on the context of her new book.
An interesting part of the story is the bizarre psychology of 'self-blaming', identified in most of these highly educated people who are increasingly struggling to find a job proportional to their skills and knowledge.
You have $1.5 trillion student debt. You have, an income inequality thrumming under all this. Since 1997 the top one percent, its income has grown 20 times faster than the other 90 percent. It’s so high now, and the gap is so great. And you have this whole world of counselors and coaches and certificate programs that, I think of them as like vultures on the carcass of the middle class. Also, when you’re talking about race, the whites’ median wealth is 68 times the median wealth of African Americans.
So, in the middle class, it starts to mirror that too; I talked to an African American woman who had been a journalist, had been laid off, she was looking for jobs. Her colleagues were getting jobs in PR, like the second act kind of thing. And she said, I’m not getting them. She was like, ‘what’s wrong with me?’ And then I looked at the figures, and I realized white applicants were 36 percent more likely to get callbacks on job interviews than African American applicants. So there was probably implicit bias in why she wasn’t getting those job calls for the PR. And she sort of knew that, but then a part of her was like, ‘what’s wrong with me?’
And this is one of just dozens, like a hundred interviews I had, where I often felt like saying: ‘there’s nothing wrong with you!’ The thing that I am hoping will reach people - so this book isn’t depressing - is that there’s a lot we can do and that people are starting to do. People are starting to vote differently. I think once you realize that you’re part of a precarious class, you might vote with others that are also precarious.
Middle-class and working-class people voting together and finding common cause–that’s the hope. That through self-recognition of your state, when you stop blaming yourself and start blaming these system errors, things can change. You know, you can start talking openly with your neighbors and friends, and colleagues and your kids, and try to set up arrangements, personal arrangements.
The story reveals another loud distortion of the obsolete capitalist system. A distortion amplified by the neoliberal ideology in the era of financial capitalism. Neoliberalism sold the fairy tale of automatic equilibrium in societies through the continuous chase of self-interest.
The magnitude of this distortion is particularly evident today in the US higher education and its connection with the labor market. Privatized educational sector is seeking for more students to maximize profits. The banking sector is seeking for more student loans to maximize profits too. In the end, you have heavily indebted, hyper-educated people who struggle, day by day, to find a job because the big corporations hyper-automate production - in every level - to ... maximize profits.
In order to hide this huge failure, the ideological framework of this completely distorted system has brainwashed the masses to make them believe in outrageously simplified narratives, many of them being deeply irrational.
Therefore, for example, if you can't find a job, it's only your fault. This completely distorted system has nothing to do with it. The fact that you have been brutally exploited until your graduation in the most cynical manner, is something that this rotten ideological framework wants you to believe that is irrelevant.
And it works. Instead of seeing the big picture of this insane situation, many millennials blame themselves for not being able to find a job, as they've been 'trained' to do so by the establishment tools and mechanisms.